Lava lamp dreamer

  • By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, April 6, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Sure it’s loopy, but in Soap Lake they aren’t laughing. An Everett architect’s design for a giant lava lamp has solid support from solid citizens.

“It can be done. It’s a good idea, I think. We want people to stop here,” said Debbie Amundson, finance officer for the city of Soap Lake.

Amundson has seen a video presentation of the plan by architect Andrew Kovach to build a 60-foot-tall lava lamp on Soap Lake’s shoreline.

“They’re serious about it,” Amundson said of Kovach and his sons. Austin and Alex Kovach work with their father at Kovach Architects, an Everett firm.

Andrew Kovach and his wife, Nell, split their time between Snohomish County and Soap Lake, where they own a cabin. They’ve been in Soap Lake about eight years, long enough to remember the Grant County town’s earlier lava lamp flirtation.

Back in 2002, artist Brent Blake envisioned a big lava lamp becoming a town symbol, like Seattle’s Space Needle on a Soap Lake scale.

“It was just one of those epiphanies,” said Blake, 69, who runs the Soap Lake Art Museum. News of his vision reached New York, and led Target to donate a huge lamp to the town. It had been part of a sign in Times Square. Years passed and that lamp fell into disrepair. Blake said Tuesday that when the Kovachs presented their plan, “I was blown away and impressed.”

“I’m very supportive of their efforts. This is a doable project,” he said.

Austin Kovach, 31, and his brother Alex, 28, sat down in Everett on Tuesday to share details of the plan. It has the approval of Lava Lite LLC, the company that holds trademarks for the iconic 1960s-era lamps filled with eye-catching wax blobs.

Unlike Blake’s dream of building an actual lamp, the Kovach plan would simulate a lamp’s look. A concrete base would be topped by a steel cap covered with the tough fabric used in stadium roofs. Inside, two laser projectors would create the light effects. They are working with Lasersmith Light Show Systems, the company that does light shows at the Grand Coulee Dam.

Andrew Kovach said by email Tuesday that Soap Lake, a city of about 1,600 people, has given the OK for use of an undeveloped road right-of-way overlooking the lake. Solar panels atop the structure would power the lamp.

“It’s a high-tech art installation,” Austin Kovach said.

Andrew Kovach thinks there’s a good chance of raising the estimated $1 million needed.

“I believe people will be surprised how quickly funds are raised,” he said. “We have received overwhelming support and endorsements from many national and countywide organizations, including Grant County Economic Development Council, Grant County Tourism Board, Columbia Basin Foundation, the Ice Age Floods Institute, Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway, The Soap Lake Conservancy and others.”

His sons said even small donations could add up to build what residents hope will become a tourist attraction in the town less than an hour’s drive north of Moses Lake.

Kovach Architects, which formerly had an office in Monroe, has worked on hotels, apartments, office buildings and homes. A current project is the City Center Tower, a proposed high-rise in Lynnwood.

In Soap Lake, longtime residents Burr and Eileen Beckwith have high hopes for the lamp. They run a website, www.soaplakeforlocals.com. Eileen Beckwith, 63, said the Kovach plan is realistic.

She remembers when the Gorge Amphitheatre seemed like a crazy dream. Now thousands of concertgoers drive hours to the Grant County venue built in the 1980s.

“People in town are really excited to be able to promote tourism,” she said. “To people not from the area it seems rather farfetched. But this idea has been with us. It’s a magical part of Soap Lake’s story.”

The lake itself is high in mineral content and believed by some to have healing powers. Andrew Kovach has fallen in love with the area. He kayaks, goes biking on back roads without ever seeing cars, and hikes and birdwatches in open sagelands.

He hasn’t heard much negative reaction to the hippie image some see in lava lamps.

“I’m sure for some, the lamp will bring back fond memories of that era probably just as much as a ’72 GTO might — and that’s not so bad,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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